It’s dead of night. There’s an eerie silence all around. In the limitless, cloudless sky above, millions of stars can be seen glittering. There’s the constellation and that one in the distant is the Orion -- all seem to be moving in a rhythmic and orderly way -- that too in an almost touchable distance!
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novo Theatre is supposed to take one on such a journey to the stars.
This non-formal science educational institution was established with an objective to “provide all citizens and students with proper knowledge and information on astronomy and encourage study of astronomical science”.
Unfortunately, due to lack of maintenance and student/children-friendly activities, it’s not only failing its purpose, but also being unsuccessful in attracting visitors.
The project started in 1997 by the Ministry of Science and Technology. Inaugurated on September 25, 2004 at Bijoy Sarani in Tejgaon, the novo theatre has a tilted-dome planetarium, combined with a large format motion picture system. According to ministry sources, the country’s lone planetarium was constructed at a cost of Tk 123 crore.
However, during multiple visits over the last two weeks, these reporters saw only a handful of people visiting the place.
From afar, it looks grand with the dome and pillars next to it standing tall above ground. After walking along a wide space in front of the novo theatre with nothing but an unkempt lawn and areas with stagnant dirty water which apparently were kept for fountains, and climbing a few stairs -- one will finally arrive at the place.
Once inside, another open space greets visitors. There’s an exhibition -- Innovation Gallery -- on one side, showcasing models such as movements of planets around the sun, various space-related measurements and other replicas. All of them have multiple functions but none worked properly. The displays looked worn-out and uncared for.
Disappointed, a child asked his father, “Can we go now?”
“Let’s try upstairs,” replied his father, Saidul Hasan, a private service holder.
But the elevator did not work. A security guard looked around for the person in-charge but to no avail. “He must have taken a break,” he said.
The father and son took the stairs. The second floor did not impress the eight-year-old either. There was more empty spaces and a lone 5D movie theatre, operated by an unresponsive staff member.
By this time, the child, Sajal, was quite hungry. The father-son duo climbed down two more stairs and went to the cafeteria. There was more empty space with a row of chairs next to a food stand, featuring bland and nondescript items.
But the saving grace was the planetarium shows, which featured five separate screenings relating to astronomy. A documentary on Bangabandhu and the Liberation War is also screened prior to those.
“My son enjoyed it immensely,” said Saidul. “I hope, they will add more shows like this.”
There’s also an exhibit called “Digital and Scientific Exhibits”, where some features worked and some did not, and a “Nuclear Power Information Centre” that was closed. The novo theatre has a ride simulator, which has been out-of-order for years.
“I wish they would add more features,” said Jahera Khanam Munia. The Bashabo resident visited the novo theatre with her six-year-old son on Friday.
Her son, Awanun Nabi Priyo, was busy trying out various functions of the displays. He became elated when some worked.
“I really wish they had some souvenirs or memorabilia that children could take home. The authorities could add a bookshop too with information on astronomy to attract eager little minds,” said Md Arman Ahmed, a school teacher, who brought along his two daughters.
“This place needs to be upgraded,” he said. “It looks and feels like a museum with some artefacts. The authorities could set up telescopes and other interactive activities to spark students’ interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields.”
Asked, an official of the novo theatre said, “We are trying to upgrade the place. But the decision lies with the higher authorities as it’s a policy-level issue.”
“The planetarium has been running same shows for over five years. If we could introduce more shows, it would attract more people,” he told The Daily Star recently.
About some non-functioning exhibits, he said they tried to fix those locally, which did not work out well as those became out-of-order again. He said they have around 30 exhibits and at least 8-10 are not working properly.
The ride simulator has been non-functional for over two years. “We procured it from an Indian firm. To fix it, the company asked for advance payment without even looking at it. So, we did not proceed with them,” the official said.
Another official, wishing anonymity, said the number of visitors is reducing gradually for lack of proper maintenance and initiatives. He alleged that some exhibits were not working properly since the beginning.
Acknowledging the issues, Abul Basher Md Zahurul Islam, director general of the novo theatre, said, “We are planning to add more attractions and rides to spruce up the place.”
When asked about the time-frame, he said, “We did our part in a timely manner. But the proposal will be sent to the ministry first and from there to the planning commission. They will hold a meeting on the issue. Considering everything, we believe we’ll be able to start the work from early next year.”
“We will send the proposal within a month,” he told The Daily Star.
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